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The secret networks that circumvent Honduras’ abortion ban: How an AP team documented the invisible

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The locations were hidden, the phones untraceable, the contacts used code words to communicate. But Riquelme had a vision of how — and why — to document something that is both illegal and heavily stigmatized in Honduras. In July 2022, she made her pitch and received a grant from the International Women’s Media Foundation.   

It would take many more months and intense teamwork with Honduran journalist Iolany Pérez in El Progreso to build the trust needed. In March, she traveled to Honduras to begin making contacts and looking for the locations where women ended their pregnancies.    

Mexico City reporter María Verza joined, and together they crisscrossed the country from the mountains to the coast, from banana plantations to urban export-oriented production zones. Riquelme listened to women’s stories and focused on how to illustrate them.   

Bit by bit, they pieced together the story of the networks of advocates secretly helping women who were seeking abortions. But the networks — created to protect their members and the women they helped by employing aliases, burner phones and code words — were extremely difficult for the journalists to access.    

Persistence and the ability to build the trust of more than a dozen women who helped or had received the networks’ assistance resulted in a previously unseen composite of an underground system built up over years of prohibition.   

So secretive are the networks that one young lawyer who became pregnant learned about her own mother’s role only when she sought an abortion herself. Later, the lawyer offered her home as a safehouse — without telling her own husband why a woman needed to stay there.   

Just as difficult was the question of how to illustrate: Riquelme knew faces were out of the question, but that places were not. She photographed the empty, makeshift rooms where women were forced by the ban to undergo abortions, fearing medical complications but willing to take the risk. And the team visited a hospital gynecological emergency room where a doctor examined women and girls whose pregnancies had ended — without asking questions about how.   

For journalism that illustrates the invisible, and in-depth and unmatched coverage of an issue that resonates far outside Honduras, this team earns Best of the Week — First Winner.  

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